Google's Pursuit of Open Video Standards is Coming to a Head

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 12, 2011

We've made the point many times that one open source browsers--with Firefox and Chrome leading the way--are setting the pace in browser innovation, but as open source browsers run neck-and-neck, and still compete with Internet Explorer, are we in danger of seeing fragmented standards? On The Chromium Blog this week, Google officials wrote that they are putting more muscle behind the VP8 open source video codec, and that future versions of Chrome will support the WebM Project and Ogg Theora codecs. The upshot: Google is moving steadily away from supporting H.264 video, and that may eventually have a big impact on web publishers and device manufacturers.

According to the Chromium Blog post:

"We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies."

That last sentence should make perfectly clear how Google feels about existing standards versus the open ones that it is pursuing. "H.264 plays an important part in video?" Umm, it is a de facto web standard for video supported widely by device manufacturers and favored by many web publishers. There are lots of publishers who heap praise on H.264 video for its quality.

Google had announced the open sourcing of its VP8 video codec under a BSD-style license last year. The company has received praise for pursuing open standards, but issues of standards fragmentation are also being raised (Opera Software has welcomed the Google moves). As Android phones proliferate, and Android spreads out to new hardware platforms, it will be especially interesting to see whether H.264 support remains in vogue on mobile devices, or whether device manufacturers at large back Google's moves on the video front. Time will tell.